Tag Archives: Trump parallels

LA Times editorial about dishonest public health (ok, not really)

by Carl V Phillips

I have already noted on this page the “welcome to my world” feeling of the press and others complaining about the Trump administration, and its deluge of disinformation and dumb policy proposals, fueled by both unforgivable ignorance and ideological extremism. When newspapers and pundits complain about this, I often find myself thinking, “gee, why don’t you exercise these critical skills when you report on the issues I work on?”


(For those who might not know why that was fake news and want to learn, see this.)

Today the Los Angeles Times published a scathing critique of Trump and his administration, “Our Dishonest President”, which is getting an enormous amount of attention. Actually, I (and those tweeting that it pulls no punches) probably overstate that a bit; let’s call it “scathing by the standards of insider elites who seldom say anything that is brutally honest, no matter how much it needs to be said.” Anyway, several parts of struck me as just so “welcome to my world” that I thought maybe I should rewrite it a bit. What I came up with appears below. You might not fully appreciate just how similar to the original it is reading them serially, so I have also posted a marked up version that shows all my edits to the original.

The latter is a bit of a pain to read, of course; if you choose to read just the clean version below, know this: Every single sentence is from the original work that I am criticizing and parodying, pointing out their hypocrisy in not offering similar scrutiny elsewhere (just a little note there for LAT’s copyright enforcers :-). No sentence has been omitted. My version of every sentence maintains the theme of the original (but re-aiming it, of course).


a parody and critical political commentary by Carl V Phillips, based on a work  By THE TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD

It was no secret for years that many in tobacco control and similar branches of U.S. public health are narcissists and demagogues who used fear and dishonesty to appeal to the worst in people. (The Times, however, and in common with every other major news outlet, has allowed this to pass without seriously criticizing it; it never called them unsuited for the job they do, and certainly never said that a particular policy would be a “catastrophe.”)

Still, nothing prepared us for the magnitude of this train wreck. Like millions of other Americans, we clung to a slim hope that public health activists would turn out to be all noise and bluster, or that the people around them in universities and governments would act as a check on their worst instincts, or that they would be sobered and transformed by the awesome responsibilities of influencing policies that have huge effects on people’s lives.

Instead, about two decades into the time of extreme activist public health — and who knows how much time to go before they are stopped — it is increasingly clear that those hopes were misplaced.

Public health social activists have taken dozens of real-life steps that, if they are not reversed, will continue to rip families apart, lower people’s welfare, in many cases actually harm public health, and profoundly weaken the quality of American public education.

Their attempt to ban e-cigarettes for millions of people who had finally quit smoking and, along the way, enact a massive transfer of wealth from tobacco product users to the government and cigarette manufacturers might still be stopped. But they are proceeding with his efforts to grant further arbitrary powers to the government’s regulatory agencies and bloat their budget.

These are immensely dangerous developments which threaten to weaken the moral standing of our government and real public health, imperil freedom and reverse years of slow but steady gains by marginalized or impoverished Americans. But, chilling as they are, these radically wrongheaded policy choices are not, in fact, the most frightening aspect of the ascendence of this brand of “public health”.

What is most worrisome about these people are these people themselves. They are so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality that it is impossible to know where their policies will lead or how much damage they will do to our welfare. Their obsession with fame, wealth and success, determination to vanquish enemies real and imagined, craving for adulation — these traits were, of course, at the very heart of their David-Goliath-myth outsider campaign; indeed, some of them helped them secure the power they have today. But in a real position of power, they are nothing short of disastrous.

Although the activists’ policies are, for the most part, variations on classic real public health positions, they become far more dangerous. Many people, for instance, support restrictions on where you can light-up and educational efforts to encourage healthy eating, but modern public health’s cockamamie tobacco “endgame” fantasies and impracticable campaigns to change human nature turn presumptuous and pushy policy into appalling imposition of an extremist minority view.

In the days ahead, The Times editorial board will look more closely at this, with a special attention to three troubling traits:

1. Shocking lack of respect for those fundamental rules and institutions on which our government and scientific community is based. They have repeatedly disparaged and challenged those entities that have threatened their agenda, stoking public distrust of essential institutions in a way that undermines faith in science and democracy. They have questioned the qualifications of scientists and the integrity of their analyses, rather than acknowledging that politics must submit to the rules of nature. They have clashed with their own honest experts, demeaned consumers and questioned the credibility of anyone who does not share their politics. They have lashed out at bloggers and other journalists, declaring them “industry shills,” rather than defending the importance of a critical, independent free press. Their contempt for the rule of law and the norms of government are palpable.

2. Utter lack of regard for truth. Whether it is the easily disprovable boasts about the miraculous effects of smoking bans or the unsubstantiated assertion that soda taxes improve health, they regularly muddy the waters of fact and fiction. It’s difficult to know whether they actually can’t distinguish the real from the unreal — or whether they intentionally conflate the two to befuddle the public, deflect criticism and undermine the very idea of objective truth. Whatever the explanation, they are encouraging Americans to reject facts, to disrespect science, documents, nonpartisanship and the mainstream media — and instead to simply take positions on the basis of ideology and preconceived notions. This is a recipe for a science-free power struggle in which differences grow deeper and rational compromise becomes impossible.

3. Scary willingness to repeat conspiracy theories, misleading memes and crackpot, out-of-the-mainstream ideas. Again, it is not clear whether they believe them or merely use them. But to cling to disproven “alternative” facts; to retweet celebrities with nothing useful to contribute; to make unverifiable or false statements; to buy into discredited conspiracy theories first floated on fringe websites and in deranged University of California blogs — these are all of a piece with antivax or miracle-cure claptrap that, but for some quirk of fate, these same individuals might now be peddling to come to political prominence. It is deeply alarming that a supposedly respectable and science-based movement would lend credibility to ideas that have been rightly rejected by every honest expert who has looked closely.

Where will this end? Will public health moderate their crazier positions as time passes? Or will they provoke a permanently destructive loss of faith in real science and health advocacy? Or, alternately, will the system itself protect us from them as they alienate more and more allies, step on their own message and create chaos at the expense of real public health goals? Already, the approval rating for their policies, among people who really know about them and the alternatives, has been hovering in the mid-30s, a shockingly low level of support for rules that are ostensibly intended to benefit the public. And that was before the new “war on sugar” that is bleeding over from the UK.

Fifteen years ago, it was not yet time to declare a state of “wholesale panic” or to call for blanket “non-cooperation” with the public health activists. Despite plenty of dispiriting signals, that is still our view. The role of the rational opposition is to stand up for the rule of law, the scientific process, and the role of institutions; we should not underestimate the resiliency of a system in which laws are greater than individuals and voters are as powerful as presidents. This nation survived John Harvey Kellogg and Carrie Nation. It survived bloodletting therapy. It survived Prohibition. Most likely, it will survive again.

But if it is to do so, those who oppose the reckless and heartless agenda must make their voices heard. Protesters must raise their banners. Voters must turn out for state and local hearings. Members of Congress must find the political courage to stand up to them. Courts must safeguard individual liberties. State legislators must pass laws to protect their citizens from meddling. All of us who are in the business of holding leaders accountable must redouble our efforts to defend the truth from their cynical assaults.

Science-based policy is not perfect, and it has a great distance to go before it fully achieves its goals. But preserving what works and defending the rules and values on which it depends are a shared responsibility. Everybody has a role to play in this drama.


Editors of Tobacco Control admit they publish indefensible junk science

by Carl V Phillips

Ok, that is not exactly what they said. But it was seriously so damn close to that it is not really an exaggeration. This appears in today’s editorial by the journal’s editors, Richard O’Connor, Coral Gartner, Lisa Henriksen, Sarah Hill, Joaquin Barnoya, Joanna Cohen, and Ruth E Malone, with the bizarre title, “Blog fog? Using rapid response to advance science and promote debate”. Continue reading

NYT calls Trump a liar; critics fail to make it so clear about Glantz

[Update: For those who want more details of the criticism of the Dutra-Glantz paper, or are only interested in that and not the broader question of how to combat lies, I have posted a PubMed Commons comment here.]

Further on the critically important theme of my previous post, we are perhaps already starting to see a positive trend. The New York Times went as far as to identify one of Trump’s lies with the word “lie” in its top headline today. They did not go quite so far as to label him a “liar”, understandably, but that is implicit. Readers of this blog will recall my arguments for the importance of calling out liars as such. Piecemeal responses to each individual lie are a hopeless tactic and not effective. For one thing, you end up with this problem: Continue reading

Dealing with tobacco control liars: under Trump, everyone will see what it’s like

I found myself struck by the parallels between my typical Twitter feed about the behavior of “public health” people and the flurry of tweets about Trump’s relationship with the truth that the inauguration has created. We are not talking strained similarities here, but rather the exact same playbook. In the former category, we have my observation here: Continue reading

What conflict of interest accusations really mean (with a tie to The Times’s attack on GTNF participants)

by Carl V Phillips

Public health activists are extremely fond of using ad hominem attacks to avoid admitting they have no substantive defense against their critics. They are not alone, of course, with many supporters of other indefensible causes doing the same — e.g., anti-agritech activists, “alternative” energy advocates, alt-right adolescents on Twitter, etc. These attacks most often take the form of claiming “conflict of interest”. Endless ink has been spilled on the fact that resorting to an ad hominem attack is practically an admission that one’s opponent is right. But there is far too little discussion about the actual substantive content of the COI. Basically, what is dressed up as genteel productive discussion is actually a bald accusation that someone is lying, and moreover usually that they are only choosing to lie because of some (often trivial) transfer of funds. Continue reading

Anti-muslim fanatic and tobacco control fanatic, a dialogue

by Carl V Phillips

Somewhere in an imaginable land, a dialogue.

ANTI-MUSLIM FANATIC: Hey, I wanted to thank you. We have adopted your blueprint.

TOBACCO CONTROL FANATIC: You’re welcome. … Wait, what?

AMF: Yeah, we now have a plan for the endgame for driving Muslims from this country.

TCF: That is terrible. What does it have to do with us?

AMF: I told you, we are following your blueprint: Punitive taxes. Limiting where people can practice Islam. Vilification campaigns. All your favorites.

No more immigrants. That last one is a bit different, but we adapted your plan to forbid the development of new products.

Also, a ban on little rugs.

TCF: But that is a gross violation of people’s rights and the norms of our society. Religion is an intimate private decision. Even if you think your goal is a good idea, are you saying you want to trample on people’s happiness and the fundamental glue that holds our society together in pursuit of some personal pique?!

AMF: Are you sure you want to go down that path?

TCF: Um, fair enough. But how are you ever going to get support for that? We always had a plan to expand beyond those with the burning pique to enlist a lot of useful idiots.

AMF: It’s all in your blueprint. We can do it. Get this: “Think someone being Muslim does not hurt you? Well 9-11 cost America over $5 trillion. That’s $17,000 from every man, woman, and child.”

TCF: But that’s absurd. Most of that cost was the result of people like you making the country lash out in the wrong directions, impose security theater, and such. The attack itself caused only a small fraction of that loss.

AMF: Um, “quit smoking because it is expensive, makes you leave your friends in the pub while you go outside, and could cost you your insurance or your job.” Again, are you sure you want to go down this path?

TCF: ….

AMF: ….

TCF: Ok, props for that.

But that attack was a few foreign militants and their international support network. It had nothing to do with the practice of Islam among people living here. If you are worried about terrorism, wouldn’t it be more effective to withdraw our active support for Wahhabism, to whom much of it traces; not arm “moderate” warlords, because there is no such thing as a moderate warlord; back off on policies that inspire such attacks; and avoid destroying the social structures in the mideast that provide a bulwark against the rise of such factions?

AMF: Um, look, I realize that the necessary conceit of this dialogue is that both of us are far more thoughtful, honest, self-aware, articulate, and willing to engage in open dialogue than anyone who actually espouses either of these positions. Still, that statement seems to strain the conceit beyond any semblance of reasonableness. And I don’t just mean that “to whom much of it traces” grammar.

TCF: Yeah, fair enough. Ok, try this: If your goal is to prevent terrorist attacks, a goal very few people would question, why not focus on policies that are targeted at discouraging militants rather than discouraging the practice of Islam more generally? Doesn’t attacking law-abiding members of society actually hurt the goal?

AMF: Oh, I didn’t say that the goal was stopping attacks. In fact, a few more attacks would really do us a lot of good. Playing on fear and costs is just how we build support for the campaign. We hate it that anyone around us practices Islam and want to put a stop to it. We don’t care if their personal faith is perfectly peaceful and harmonious. We don’t care how much it might mean to them. It is still Islam, and it has to go.

TCF: With all due respect, you are monsters.

AMF: Um, actually we got all that from you too.

TCF: From us?! How…? Oh, I see.

AMF: Thanks again, by the way.

TCF: You are still monsters. We are fighting against a scourge that people get habituated to it at an early age, before they are capable of understanding the ramifications of their choice. They are innocent victims of what they see around them being considered normal, and of the machinations of huge corporations who can only keep going by recruiting at an early age.

AMF: [raises one eyebrow]

TCF: Yeah, ok. But the same is true for being a Christian or any other religion. What right do you have to decide the indoctrination of being brought up in one religion needs to be stamped out but another is fine?

AMF: We both know the youthful brainwashing claim is meaningless for either one of us. It describes countless behaviors and beliefs, like patriotism, studying hard, playing sports, eating meat, reading fiction, masturbation, cooking with curry, drinking soda, respecting one’s elders…

[seven pages of transcript omitted]

Anyway, to answer your question, we decide. We can decide because we are ascending in influence here. Might is right.

We got that one from you too.

TCF: Yes, I suppose you did. But it is still different. Tobacco is addictive.

AMF: “Addictive” refers to compulsive drug use that seriously impairs someone’s functioning. Tobacco use does not do that.

TCF: We just mean that using it makes you more inclined to use it. You get cravings to do more of it.

AMF: That describes about half the things on the list I just recited.

TCF: Well addictive also means it makes you very unhappy to give it up once you start. And people who choose to quit are really glad they did.

AMF: You might be over-generalizing a bit there. But anyway, that still probably describes about quarter of the things on my list. Notably including being a Muslim.

TCF: Hmm. So you are going to portray the people you are abusing as dupes who thus are really being made better off by the abuse. And do that after you anchor everyone’s thinking on the worst-case product …er, people… to condemn the entire practice. I guess we really are on the same page. Your ideas are starting to grow on me.

But, wait! No! No no no! You are trying to trick me. The difference is that your goal is just the zealous preference of a group of fanatics who have no right to judge how others choose to live their lives, while our goal is….

AMF: [other eyebrow]

TCF: Our goal is good! It just is. We know we are right. And we know that is right because we know we are right. Turtles all the way down. We will have to agree to disagree.

AMF: Why is there any need for agreement in order to disagree? I’ve never understood that.

TCF: Moving on, I think you have a serious implementation problem. I really don’t see how our blueprint will let you pull off an endgame.

AMF: One might say you also have a serious…. Nah, I’ll go a different direction here: There are a lot fewer Muslims in our country than there are tobacco users. And more people who hate them and want them to go away. So I would say we are better positioned than you.

TCF: But the tactics won’t translate. I see how immigration controls can work. But how are you going to tax people for being Muslim?

AMF: First you strip the tax-exempt status from mosques and Islamic organizations. Someone will have to pay that, and it can only be the individual Muslims because all taxes are ultimately paid by consumers.

Ha! you probably assumed that because I am espousing alt-right ideas that I don’t understand basic economics.

TCF: Well, yeah, that seemed like a good bet. But I do remember the conceit of this conversation, so ok. I’ll have to take your word for it, though, because the conceit cannot possibly go as far as to give me credit for understanding economics. Anyway, go on.

AMF: We also impose a head tax on them. We will make it low to start with so people just get used to paying it. Then we will crank it up until it impoverishes them. The first bit has a long history. The second bit we got from you.

TCF: Ah, so then they eventually succumb and abandon their faith. Yup, that should work. But, wait, can’t they just declare they renounce Islam it without really doing so? It is not like they have to buy anything, or that you have a test for it like we do.

AMF: Actually, we don’t expect many of them to either give it up or pretend to. We just like the idea of impoverishing them. We got that from you too. People don’t just give up true belief. The cost of pretending can also be rather steep, especially if you still want to do a Hajj. It is not a cheap and simple evasion like buying black-market cigarettes to avoid the tax.

TCF: But then what is the point of doing it?

AMF: Same reason you do it: To give governments a financial stake in the War on Muslims. If they want the money, then they have to support our policies. That’s when we get them to unleash the rest of your tactics:

We start ridiculing Muslims, using their own tax payments to broadcast the message that they are vile. God, I love that part!

We teach every child in school that any practice of Islam is vile. Kids are great, aren’t they? You can claim everything is being done to protect the little naive innocents, and then sell them simplistic generalizations because they are so naive and innocent.

Also, we are going to ban proselytizing immediately and then expand than to ban anyone associated with Islam from making any positive statements about Islam, whether true or not. And if anyone else says anything, we will accuse them of being secretly in the pay of Big Muhammad and try to get them sent to Gitmo.

TCF: But that tramples over so many of the fundamental freedoms that our society cherishes. It is a slippery slope to all kinds of other actions. It is difficult to imagine where that could end.

AMF: Yes. So?

TCF: Nothing. Just making sure we were still on the same page.

AMF: At some point, we will make it illegal to bow toward Mecca except in designated areas. We got that from you, but it turns out ghettoizing works for religions too.

TCF: Um, actually we may not deserve credit for originating that idea.

AMF: Oh, and then we will slowly move those designated areas to even more remote locations. Also we will embed broken glass in the pavement.

TCF: I think maybe we could learn something from you. We will have to stay in touch. Secretly, of course — you are still a monster.

AMF: Back atcha.

TCF: So what else of ours have you figured out how to use?

AMF: Here is one I have been working on: “Treating law-abiding and peaceful Muslims differently from terrorists is like getting hit by a jetliner in a 7 story building rather than a 110 story building.”

TCF: That’s…. horrific.

AMF: So you don’t like it?

TCF: No, I love it! You really have studied the script.

AMF: How about these: “I get it dude [sneer], yours is a noble and peace-loving faith.” …and… “Allowing muslims to integrate into our pluralistic society will give you oral cancer.”

TCF: Um, what?

AMF: Yeah, that last one needs a little work. Still, it is no further from the truth than how you use it. Oh, and we have a great one about “third-hand salat”, but I am keeping that under wraps until we need a media boost.

TCF: Clever. So what is your timeline for endgaming the Muslims? We always attach a year to our slogans, like “a tobacco-free world by 2020”.

AMF: We are not setting a deadline. We only wanted to borrow your tactics. We did not see any reason to borrow your hubris and embarrassing legacy of failed promises.

CTFK threatens researchers, but you should not really care

by Carl V Phillips

My tobacco control amusement for the week (other than my nomination to TPSAC) comes from a letter sent from the notorious Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids (CTFK) and the obscure ENSP (which is apparently not actually a phishing site for people mistyping their sports news search, but rather a pliable recruit that gave CTFK an excuse to hassle Europeans too), to Christopher Russel and an unknown number of others. Christopher posted it here. The letter seeks to intimidate the recipients from attending the GTNF conference this month. Continue reading

Smoking is normal, and acknowledging that is part of proper tobacco harm reduction

by Carl V Phillips

Audrey Silk, via her CLASH organization in New York, recently launched a “Smoking is Normal” campaign (CLASH Facebook page, campaign Facebook page, press release). All the talk we hear about e-cigarettes “renormalizing” smoking is premised on a claim that something that about a fifth of the U.S. population does (and a larger portion in most rich countries) is not normal. In terms of prevalence, it is much more normal than being gay or being an American muslim. But think of the outcry — from very people who tend to be anti-smoker — that results when someone so much as points out those statistics, let alone suggests anything is abnormal about being in one of these minorities. Smoking is more normal than marrying outside one’s race or even marrying someone whose height percentile differs markedly from one’s own.

Of course, “denormalization” rhetoric is not an empirical claim about prevalence. It is a political tactic, an attempt to denigrate some people as being abnormal, in a sense that means abhorrent or deviant. In that sense, it is every bit as anti-THR as the most visited topic of this blog, attempts to convince people that a low-risk alternative to smoking is more harmful than it really is. No one who supports “denormalization” of smokers can be said to genuinely support tobacco harm reduction. Continue reading